Mobile-Loving Millennials Still Want to Test Drive Cars, Talk to Dealers

Younger Car Shoppers Are Using Phones for Research, but Still Value Personal Interaction

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Credit: Bloomberg News

Millennials may love their phones, but they don't use them to make all of their car buying decisions, Edmunds.com says in a new report.

Contrary to popular belief, tech-loving millennials value meeting with dealers face-to-face and taking test drives as well, the findings show.

"This notion that millennials will sit off in a corner, punch some things in their phone and the next thing you know they're driving a new car is a little fanciful," said Edmunds.com CEO Avi Steinlauf, in an interview.

The first Edmunds.com Millennial Mobile Car Shopping Report says 80% of millennials used their mobile devices to aid them with at least one car-shopping task, a considerably higher percentage than the 46% for adults ages 35 and over.

Yet 64% of millennials said they prefer face-to-face interaction with dealers while 96% said it's important to test drive a vehicle before buying.

"Yes, they are doing more research on mobile than perhaps other demographics," Mr. Steinlauf said. "Yes, they are coming in prepared having done their research wanting to transact and shop for specific vehicles all the way down to a VIN level specifically, but this notion that they don't want to interact with dealers I think is incorrect."

The Edmunds report aggregated the findings of two recent surveys that were commissioned by the company.

One took place in January and polled 1,500 U.S. adults 18 and up who bought a vehicle within the last three months. The other survey, conducted this month, had 1,000 respondents between the ages of 18 and 34.

Mobile isn't a fad
Edmunds found that 41% of millennials consult their mobile devices for "critical shopping activities" like reading vehicle reviews, as opposed to 20% for all other adults.

Going further, the report said 34% of millennials locate vehicles for sale on their mobile devices compared with 20% for other adults. When it comes to researching vehicle pricing, 33% of millennials turned to their mobile devices while 21% of other adults did so.

According to the report, around 70% of recent millennial car buyers said they contacted a dealer through text messaging while shopping, compared with 43% of all other adults.

To stay on top of this trend, Edmunds began rolling out a new mobile texting platform for dealerships in November called CarCode. Dealerships are given local numbers, and notifications are sent to assigned salespeople when customers send texts, the company says.

Edmunds' dealer partners can use the service for free.

"The fact that millennials are voting with their fingers in that way is very important for people to be aware of," Mr. Steinlauf said.

The mobile shopping movement isn't a fad.

Mr. Steinlauf said about 36% of Edmunds.com shoppers access the site via mobile devices, a big bounce from the low single digits in 2010.

More data
In other findings on millennial mobile shopping habits:

• Used car purchases made up 78% of all millennial car purchases last year, compared with 68% of all car purchases by adults 35 and over.

• While millennials accounted for 39% of all traffic to used car pages on Edmunds.com last year, they made up 58% of mobile traffic to those same pages.

• About one out of every three millennials said they used their phones to find contact info for a local dealership, compared with one out of four adults age 35 and over.

--Vince Bond Jr. is a reporter for Automotive News.

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